The racing gods threw everything they could at the Kasey Kahne Racing #9, but James McFadden was not to be denied.
From Sunday’s brutal crash followed by an 18-hour drive to a near-complete re-build of their operation to a spur-of-the-moment engine change, there isn’t much that crew members Justin Adams, Gary [Woodman] Patellaro, and Rob Beattie didn’t overcome this week.
In the end, all of the blood, sweat, and tears took them to victory lane for the second time this season, as McFadden conquered Washington’s Skagit Speedway upon his first visit to the 3/10-mile bullring.
His opening triumph of the Sage Fruit Skagit Nationals gives him four World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series wins, most notably tying the Northern Territory boy with fellow Australian Ian Madsen of New South Wales for 68th on the All-Time Wins List.
In a positive spin of the evening for Enumclaw, WA’s Kasey Kahne – who ran 13th in his Outlaws debut at his home track – he still made it to victory lane as a team owner. In fact, KKR’s fifth win at the Alger, WA facility (2 with Saldana, 2 with Pittman) makes them the winningest team at the track over Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing.
“It’s rewarding to rebound like this, especially after the big drama at the last race,” McFadden mentioned. “These guys worked their butts off this week. The long drive here, then the day we had yesterday, then the motor change, just so much has happened. How fast they changed that motor tonight might’ve won us this race.”
Indeed, the timing of the engine change ended up playing a huge role in McFadden’s win. They began the process following the second of three Hot Lap sessions and barely beat the clock to make it to staging for their 14th qualifying spot. McFadden ultimately timed in fourth-quick and joked “I didn’t have any time to think about screwing it up.”
From there he transferred to the DIRTVision Fast Pass Dash and then finished second to earn his fourth front row start of the year.
Before James gave his baby boy Maverick McFadden his first-ever wing dance, he had to survive a relentless attack from Sheldon Haudenschild. J-Mac officially led all 30 laps, but it wasn’t without a ferocious challenge from the NOS Energy Drink #17.
The duo ran 1-2 for the entirety of the race, splitting their battles between lap traffic and clean air restarts. Haudenschild got close on Lap 10 with the aid of backmarkers but struggled to find room to make his move on the #9. He had another shot on Lap 22 with more traffic looming, but a caution set the stage for an eight-lap dash to the finish.
With both gassers committed to the tall cushion, Haudenschild stalked McFadden and patiently waited to strike at the right time. He saved his moment for the 30th and final lap, following McFadden to the curb in turn one and setting himself up for a last-corner slide job at the win. However, the #17 slipped over the cushion in turn two and caught the wall, killing Haudenschild’s momentum and taking away his chance at a sneak attack.
Ultimately, Haudenschild fell short of McFadden by 0.514-seconds at the checkered flag.
“I could hear him,” McFadden said of Haudenschild’s run. “Obviously, Sheldon is gonna pound it, so I knew getting the start was crucial. I thought if I could short-slide myself and hit the cushion coming off that I would be okay. I’ve never raced here, but it seems pretty narrow and I tried to play that to my advantage as the leader. I wanted to run a little harder, but felt I should protect at the end.”
It wasn’t back-to-back wins, but Sheldon Haudenschild did extend his wildly impressive four-race top-two streak by claiming runner-up honors. The NOS Energy Drink #17 has been firing on all cylinders recently with crew members Kyle Ripper, Drew Brenner and Stephen Hamm-Reilly clicking down the homestretch.
“James did an awesome job, a near-perfect race for him,” Haudenschild said. “I wanted to get more traffic, but the cautions just fell at the wrong times. I planned on stalking him and waiting for the right shot. I saw the white flag and knew I needed to rip it, but I ruined my run at the slide job when I slipped high and caught the wall. We’ve got an incredibly great car right now, though. We’ll try to build on that the rest of the week.”
Rounding out the podium at the Alger, WA 3/10-mile was David Gravel aboard the Big Game Motorsports #2. The Watertown, CT native cut four points off the championship lead, leaving him -116 points behind Sweet with 18 races remaining.
Donny Schatz finished fourth aboard the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing #15, making it seven straight top-four finishes for the 10-time champion. Points leader Brad Sweet and his Kasey Kahne Racing #49 team rallied from a rough qualifying effort to earn KSE Racing Hard Charger honors with a 10th-to-fifth bid.
Closing out the top-10 on night one of the Sage Fruit Skagit Nationals was Logan Schuchart in sixth, Carson Macedo in seventh, Jacob Allen in eighth, Washington local Jason Solwold in ninth, and Californian Rico Abreu in tenth.
UP NEXT (Sat-Sun): The Sage Fruit Skagit Nationals continues tomorrow at Washington’s Skagit Speedway and then concludes on Sunday night when the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series competes for a $25,000 top prize.
NOS Energy Drink Feature Results (30 Laps): 1. 9-James McFadden [$10,000]; 2. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [$5,500]; 3. 2-David Gravel [$3,200]; 4. 15-Donny Schatz [$2,600]; 5. 49-Brad Sweet [$2,350]; 6. 1S-Logan Schuchart [$2,150]; 7. 41-Carson Macedo [$2,100]; 8. 1A-Jacob Allen [$1,950]; 9. 18-Jason Solwold [$1,900]; 10. 24-Rico Abreu [$1,850]; 11. 55-Trey Starks [$1,400]; 12. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss [$1,200]; 13. 83-Kasey Kahne [$1,000]; 14. 21P-Robbie Price [$1,000]; 15. 11K-Kraig Kinser [$1,000]; 16. 7-Tyler Thompson [$1,000]; 17. 18T-Tanner Holmes [$1,000]; 18. 44W-Austen Wheatley [$1,000]; 19. 7S-Jason Sides [$1,000]; 20. 22X-Brock Lemley [$1,000]; 21. 75-Brian Boswell [$1,000]; 22. 99-Malachi Gemmer [$1,000]; 23. 2C-Wayne Johnson [$1,000]. Lap Leaders: James McFadden 1-30. KSE Hard Charger Award: 49-Brad Sweet[+5]
NEW Championship Standings (63/81 Races): 1. Brad Sweet (8,284); 2. David Gravel (-116); 3. Carson Macedo (-164); 4. Donny Schatz (-220); 5. Sheldon Haudenschild (-240); 6. Logan Schuchart (-312); 7. James McFadden (-716); 8. Kraig Kinser (-970); 9. Brock Zearfoss (-1216); 10. Jacob Allemn (-1448).